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Submitted to 1000 Friends of Maryland, Citizens Planning & Housing Association, Transit Choices, Transportation Alliance
1. What is your vision for transportation in Baltimore to meet the needs of our economy, provide access to opportunity and connect people to the places they need and want to go? What measurable outcomes would you aim to see improved through your administration’s work on transportation?
My vision is of a city where the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on public transportation are able to get around reliably, easily, and safely. And a city where all the different modes of transportation are well-linked through transit hubs and connections. Good public transportation meets lots of needs. These include commuting to and from jobs, to and from our schools and colleges. Public transportation meets other needs as well, such as shopping for daily and weekly needs, accessing healthcare, attending cultural and recreational activities and events, visiting with friends, and generally getting around and exploring the city. A specific part of this vision would also be a revitalized North Avenue, the east-west spine of the city, from one end of its five-mile length to the other, which could be done most effectively by designing and building a modern streetcar line, similar to the one in use in Portland, Oregon and several other cities across the US.
For the aforementioned streetcar, large numbers of people moving along North Avenue day and night, shopping, visiting, participating in city services and programs (health, education, libraries, recreational), working in large and small commercial establishments would be a key measure.
Other outcomes would be more efficient bus service. Yes, this is controlled by the state, buy the city can greatly influence policies and strategies working with the State and our legislators. I would appoint someone in the city’s DOT to liaison with the state on bus transit to analyze and make recommendations jointly to better serve our residents.
2. What are your spending priorities and how would your administration implement your transportation vision? How would your budget reflect your transportation priorities and would you support using Baltimore City’s general funds to improve transit?
My transit priorities include supporting improved bike lanes, a sustainable water taxi and circulator system.
A priority would be for a feasibility study for the North Avenue modern streetcar, with a one-year time line for it to be finished.
3. Over 40% of Marylanders live in the greater Baltimore region. One of the four transportation goals from the Opportunity Collaborative’s 2015 Regional Plan for Sustainable Development was “Create more opportunity for mid-skill workers to commute to family-supporting jobs via public transportation.” Most of those jobs are outside the City. How would you use the leadership position as Mayor to forge partnerships at the regional, state, and national levels to achieve that goal?
When looking at employment hubs in Baltimore County I researched how much time it would take for me to get to them by mass transit from my home. Here are my results: Woodlawn, greater than 1 hour for 10 miles; BWI airport, @ 45 minutes for 12 miles (using MARC train); Dundalk Marine Terminal one hour 15 minutes or 10 miles. And those times go way up if your shift starts in the early morning hours, if buses are even running that that time.
City and state leaders must sit down to agree that we need each other. The city needs employment for its residents and the counties’ and their business owners need Baltimore residents to work for them.
4. How will you address possible concerns of City residents when efforts to improve bus routes and enhance the network efficiency result in changed routes, possible longer walks to stops, etc?
We need to work with the state on the efficiency of the MTA bus system. The current BaltimoreLINK proposal has started the discussion but their method is not the answer. One answer lies in routes within routes. A bus that runs from White Marsh to UMBC will never run on time. Some buses on that route should run the entire way with fewer stops in order to keep it moving and then a few of buses on the same line should loop shorter routes– from White Marsh to Hopkins, from Hopkins to University Center, and from University Center to UMBC.
I would want the state to consider making stops farther apart for several reasons. 1) in some areas of low ridership there is not a need for three stops in three blocks; 2) it is inefficient both financially and environmentally to start and stop a bus as many times as they currently do with most routes having stops every block; and 3) with less stops the buses will bunch less with the goal to run more efficiently. Unfortunately, eliminating stops never bodes will with riders, but I know that late buses, bunched buses, and inefficiencies in the system don’t make MTA riders happy either. I would recommend that the state work with our local transit nonprofits to do the research to find out stop ridership on the busier lines. I recall at one time, CPHA wanted to have a volunteer advocate ride certain buses and keep a head count of who got on and who got off to use for this purpose. Will eliminating or moving around stops make a difference? I will ask the state to work with a willing nonprofit to find out.
Any changes and improvements to mass transit must focus on taking citizens from their homes to where the jobs are located. Amazon, which has 3,000 employees, needed to set up a shuttle from downtown so employees don’t have to take several buses over two hours to get to work. Then the city subsidized it. The MTA should run the shuttle or subsidize it, not the city.
5. What is the role of the water taxi system and the circulator in your transit vision for Baltimore? And how can these systems be sustainable funded?
By carrying commuters and shoppers across and around the harbor area, the water taxi system can also function as an important economic engine for our city. Because businesses, destination sites for tourism, restaurants and retail are the primary beneficiaries of the water taxi being able to deliver tourists to their doorsteps, the city should consider working out a partnership with these businesses.
The circulator is in the midst of a crisis because of funding. This current fiscal year, we had to divert $3 million from other areas to keep the circulator running. A few thoughts. The city hired a consultant at a cost of $130,000 to come up with a plan to save money on the circulator, one cost savings being eliminating one route entirely. Why wouldn’t the city put those funds into a grant for a local nonprofit to do the research to provide direction on ow to make it sustainable – find out who the riders are, where are they coming from and going, how many are workers, tourists, residents getting to and from the doctors and grocery stores. I know that these groups who have an interest in transit have ways to gather data through their grassroots efforts and by talking to the transit users. We could then use this data to identify corporate partners – businesses whose employees use the circulator at a significant rate, retail businesses whose customers ride the circulator, hotels whose clients have access to the circulator, and anchor institutions that asked us to come to their sites. Bottom line, unfortunately, is that the city can’t continue to pay the tab for the circulator alone. And they should not have from the beginning.
6. Please briefly describe the role of bikes and pedestrians in your vision for a better local and regional transportation system? And what changes do you think Baltimore should make to achieve these goals?
Baltimore has come a long way since issuing its bicycle master plan in 2006. And maybe some would say not enough. As Baltimore becomes a sustainable city, it must embrace the role of biking and walking. And in order to do that, we must respect our bicyclists and pedestrians. Once more bike lanes are installed, a robust public relations/educational campaign should take place throughout the city.
I am a strong advocate of creating 3 feet buffers between bike lanes and vehicles, and support the usage of flexposts to border the bike lane from the vehicle traffic. Though other factors will need to be considered when deciding on ways to create a buffer (e.g., in the winter the flexposts are at risk of being damaged by plows, neighborhood needs).
A policy I would highly consider for the safety of both bicyclists and pedestrians is the elimination of “left on red” and the removal of “right on red” where there are established bike lanes.
7. The State, through the Maryland Transit Administration, is directly responsible for most transit operations in the region. However, the City does have direct authority over land use, development, and parking. How can you use your authority in those areas to improve mobility and access in the City?
When I think about development and redevelopment of communities, the usage of biking and walking by its residents must be taken into account. If building X or house Y is built, how will that impact the ability for other residents to walk or bike in the community and is the development enhancing or impeding that ability. No development in the city should be done in a silo as it so often is and part of that holistic planning process must include alternative means of transportation, location of bus stops, and on and off street parking.